A Russian Poet and I



My novel – published in 2014




To think you can change your life by changing its outward conditions is just like thinking that by sitting on a stick and taking hold of it at both sends you could lift yourself up

(Tolstoy – January 15, 1891)




 In For the Love of a Poet I tell the story of a married Russian poet’s love for a Moscow journalist. I will leave it to you to guess on who I based Boris Beretzkoy, the poet in my novel. Just as I will leave it to you to guess who Tanya Brodovskaya, the Moscow journalist, really was.

The novel is also the story of the hardship and horror of life under the dictator Stalin, of his devastating policy of collectivisation when millions died of starvation, of his purges, his Gulag, and of the persecutions of Russia’s artists and intellectuals.

 But above all, the book is the story of one woman’s undying love for the man of her dreams.


 Here follows a brief synopsis of the novel:

Tanya … a Russian Life opens in Moscow. It is the time of Perestroika. Every Wednesday on Red Square, an old woman in rags – Tanya – draws an eager crowd as she regales tales of her past love affair with a famous dissident poet – Beretzkoy. One day, a biographer who, as luck would have it, is researching the poet’s life for a biography, is among her audience.

Over the months, she tells the biographer about her life with the poet, of how they and their friends suffered under Stalin, how they stayed alive in a famine caused by forced Collectivization and how they stayed alive during the Purges.

When Tanya meets Beretzkoy in the Pravda newspaper office where she works, she is a young girl with little experience of love.  She has long idolised the man who stands before her and he, despite the fact that he is very much older than her and is married with a family, is inescapably drawn to her.

Set against the backdrop of the Stalinist regime, the couple begin a passionate affair and fall deeply in love.  Beretzkoy and his family live in the rural village of Zernoye Selo, a refuge for artists and poets, and he asks Tanya to move to the village to be with him.  Fearing retributions from Stalin, she, all the same, moves to the village, into a small dacha which is close to his larger dacha where he continues to live with his wife and two teenage sons, and she begins living the life of the mistress, publicly ignored and privately scorned.  They live through many difficult years, witnessing the gradual disintegration of the Russia they love; struggling to survive in a famine and Stalin’s purges.  Freedoms are suppressed; dreams destroyed.  They and their friends, Russia’s literati, endure famine, persecution, incarceration and condemnation, and some of them fail to survive.

Josef Stalin

Josef Stalin

Despite the hardship, Beretzkoy writes a novel – Doctor Rudy Zinn – which is smuggled safely out of Russia and to the West. But while the title goes on to become a worldwide bestseller, and Beretzkoy’s fame begins to spread across the globe, he falls terminally ill. Lying dying in his dacha, his wife, refuses to allow Tanya to visit him, and she has to hear of his death from a friend. One the day of his funeral, she is just another face in the crowd.

Alone and poor, Tanya is evicted from her small dacha, and next, back in Moscow, she is arrested by Stalin’s OGPU on the fake charge of black marketeering. She is incarcerated in Moscow’s notorious Lubyanka prison, and on her release no one wants to employ her and she returns to live with her parents. On the eve of the Second World War a foreign diplomat puts in a word for her with the great movie maker Eisenstein, and when the war breaks out she is evacuated with the movie studio to Siberia.  Returning to Moscow after the war, she works as a translator and interpreter.

She never takes up with a man again.

 Alone and lonely and heartbroken in her old age, living in a small communal dacha outside Moscow, she begins telling her story to those who will listen – every Wednesday in Red Square.

My books 2014




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Should you wish to contact me you can do so by email: marilyn@marilynztomlins.com